Jamian Juliano-Villani

170A Suffolk Street
April 18–May 17

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Fly Kama Sutra, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 90“ x 18' 1/3”.

Jamian Juliano-Villani’s new canvases are huge, bulging, and flat. They panel up the walls and leave almost no empty space. In addition to seeming unmannered, they’re rude. Fly Kama Sutra (all works 2015) swipes through frames of at least three different, disjointed, and frankly unhinged scenarios. To see it in its entirety, you have to step outside the doors and look in through glass. Have you ever been to a tiny, shitty apartment with no real furniture, no food in the cupboards, but then a seventy-two-inch brand-name TV? Juliano-Villani’s third solo exhibition feels a lot like that, inviting judgment from an inner classy mom: This artist is irresponsible; this artist is not spending wisely.

Nor is hers an easy, happy profligacy, as her brushes with cartoon airiness and billboard surrealism suggest. The best painting is the one that looks you square in the eyes, but its own eyes are scratched right out: Penny’s Change is a smear-up of a puffer-jacketed graffiti artist’s selfie and Peter Saul’s Mona Lisa Throws Up Pizza, 1995, with the kind of teeth—big but mostly missing—that appear to you in nightmares about money. If you can bear to zoom in on it, you’ll notice that its surface is greasy, like a screen that’s been touched or spilled on, as if the painting has been handled without any care or maybe with far too much.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Caitlin MacBride

127 Henry Street
April 12–May 10

Caitlin MacBride, Wry Proportion of Its Begetting, 2015, oil on canvas, 57 x 48".

Fragments, ciphers, mirroring, and a whisper about lineage are hung as five oil paintings in Caitlin MacBride’s New York debut. Presenting a mysterious array of oblong forms severed from discernable context, MacBride’s works slink around the alleys of representation but have clearly inhaled the vapors of abstraction and had more than a few liaisons with “Pictures.” Orphaned from any alliances, they look like they’re searching for where they might fit in, as if wandering down art history’s halls, querying David Salle: “Are you my father?”

The two largest works pull the heavier weight of ideas. The first is mysteriously titled Wry Proportion of Its Begetting, 2015, and is predominantly painted a night-colored black and centered by an olive-green display containing three amorphous, articulately rendered blobs all in a line and individually posted on rods or a shelf. They resemble nothing so much as 3-D printed tchotchkes living in a flat monochrome realm cut off from any world except that of race-to-the-black-square minimal painting.

The second, Neck for the Worm Arm, 2015, functions less as a unified composition and more like a layering of competing visions for contemporary painting. A rocky indigo-blue shape in the top center opens a window onto a ghostly white folkloric scene of a deer and a shadowed figure holding out a sword. This interruption in the otherwise color-blocked painting feels cinematic, like an oblique zoom into an intimate scene or a rip in the veil of abstraction. To say that this gentle, even pretty, sight is the painting’s true face emerging from the coded gestures around it, though, would be too trusting given the pieces’ evidently wily nature. Spend the night with them, yes, but in the morning you might not recognize them.

Paige K. Bradley

Nina Beier

519 West 24th Street
April 16–May 23

View of “Nina Beier,” 2015.

Squashed under glass like butterflies, a pink down jacket, five Hermès ties, and a human-hair wig lie inside a frame. Peanuts & Turtles & Hunters & Chains & Potted Plants, 2015—named for the items cheerfully printed on the ties—encapsulates the keen wit pervading Nina Beier’s first solo show in New York. The materials are whimsical, but their humor is undercut with horror. The flattened jackets and sleeping bags in this series suggest crushed bodies; the sinuous ties swirling around them become viscera spilled on impact. Flattening the ties allows us to examine them as though they were drops of viral blood viewed through a microscope. The jaunty prints become bizarre and a little sickening. Beier’s interest in exposing the perversity of everyday commodities recalls Mike Kelley’s unnerving arrangements of soiled stuffed animals and yard-sale relics.

In a second series, Beier creates giant glasses that Goliath might use to sip a cosmo. Each one contains objects extracted from photographs—hand sanitizer, scissors, bone—encased in translucent, blue-tinted resin. By placing these items in stemware, Beier points to how we consume ready-made images and to their power to alter our minds, moods, and behavior. The still lifes themselves conjure a tension between preservation and decay. Hair spray and Band-Aids as well as the substrate in which they’re embalmed contrast with fragile, transient tokens of the natural world: dismembered beetles, the shards of a shattered emu egg. These exquisitely cryptic sculptures play on the biblical conversion of water into wine. Metamorphosis lies at the heart of Beier’s work, which so effectively transforms prosaic materials, exploding their contexts and stretching their meanings to startling proportions.

Zoë Lescaze

Erin Shirreff

530 West 22nd Street
April 17–May 22

Erin Shireff, Ruler and hole, 2015, cyanotype photogram, 96 x 96".

Erin Shirreff’s art beats between objects and images. Her latest show, “Arm’s Length,” consists of four bodies of work: large-scale cyanotypes, lush pigment-print diptychs, plinth-bound arrangements of plaster geometries, and layered compositions of steel. Its structure is syntactic, defined through a vocabulary of forms that recur across materials and media. Here tapered to a line, there fixed as a photograph, Shirreff’s shapes resist self-containment, meeting in shifting constellations that fail to congeal.

Drop (no. 14) (all works 2015) began as a catalog of curves—the stock stuff of art-school figure drawing—that Shirreff sketched in her studio. Resized to the ready-made parameters of sheets of hot- and cold-rolled steel, the curves coexist as template and cutout, the bend of a semicircle hedging the rectangle from which it was clipped. Isolable and absent jointing, each leans against the gallery wall in mime of the pictorial logic of figure against ground. Cobbled with a sort of calculated casualness, the array seems primed for reconfiguration. A nearby cyanotype, Four strings, literalizes Drop’s insistence on a frontal (and, hence, imagistic) encounter with form. Created through the exposure of sculptural elements to light-sensitive fabric, the image indexes an object that no longer exists. Stretched to a scale typical of postwar abstract painting, its effect is at once factual and vague, the blunt aniconism of its forms contravening the lyricism of its rheumy scale of blues.

Such slippages between photographic, pictorial, and sculptural space organize the installation. Images sidle into objects; objects are percussed into images. In each case, Shirreff’s work appears other to us, close enough to touch yet poised at asymptotic remove: the not-quite nearness of an arm’s length.

Courtney Fiske

Martin Beck

291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor
April 16–May 17

View of “The thirty-six sets do not constitute a sequence,” 2015.

In the photographs that compose Martin Beck’s Flowers (set 4) and Flowers (set 5) (both 2015), a bouquet sits in various states of completion, quite corporate in its prim pose, housed in a clear vase and floating in a field of black: This is the empty dream-space of stock photography, where portraits twinkle like Platonic ideals. At first, the arrangement is a bustle of white blooms (the better to slice against the black), while later stages burst into yellow, bloodred, and pink. These are not pictures of flowers but of cleanliness, of bureaucratic pleasantness, of the sanitized cheer kept up by those manicured hands that crane delicately from beyond the frame to fondle the petals and stems. Here at last is the utopia dreamt up by HR manuals and company retreats, a no-place of smiling industriousness and aseptic bliss.

This show sparkles with a glassy politesse that reaches its apex in Strategy Notebook, a video installation in which words such as “question,” “recall,” “reduce,” and “hold back” fade on and off a screen of alternating colors—the terms themselves were lifted from a 1970s “problem-solving” manual. Spliced with the limpid C-prints, the scene is one of workplace bubbliness, bourgeois incentives, and the hardening of entire states of mind (“memorize”) into techniques to be launched at the vaporous challenges that face a whole droning class of white-collar meaninglessness. The words—“chart,” “simulate,” “search”—dissolve and materialize on the cheerful flatness of digitized space, bobbing so gently there that it’s easy to forget what they are: commands.

Tobi Haslett

Caleb Considine

178 Norfolk Street
March 29–May 3

Caleb Considine, Painting for Salammbo, 2015, oil on canvas, 20 x 24".

In Gustave Flaubert’s novel Salammbô (1862), the cannonballs that fall on Carthage have been engraved with insults (“swine,” “vermin”) or else bitchy witticisms (“catch!”), and the victims they strike down have the abuses imprinted on their flesh. Hence the jagged backward writing carved on a cannonball in Caleb Considine’s small but riveting Painting for Salammbô, 2015, reads “I have thoroughly earned it.” The work depicts the piece of artillery in his Brooklyn studio next to a ratty sofa and a crumpled winter jacket. The couch, a Craigslist hand-me-down of woven brown and beige, seems undisturbed by the armament that sits upon it. If the cannonball had fallen from the sky, surely the sofa would have been smashed. Is Considine then, in his studio, the victim of the assault? Or could it be Considine who is preparing to catapult the ball upon those of us who still can’t think through painting, us who “have thoroughly earned it”?

Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education may seem like easier parallels to the naturalistic precision of Considine’s paintings. Yet more than any of Flaubert’s novels, the grandly camp Salammbô offers a model of artistic creation—a naturalism with no documentary aim, a proudly useless perfection—that Considine, with his catapult in the corner of the studio, understands as nothing less than an act of war. And if naturalism were at its core a pessimistic, deterministic style, then perhaps for young artists today it may have new use. History is not fiction, it turns out. History is fate, and to make sense of that dreadful downturn we need art that’s not an umpteenth bloodless critique, but an act of creation as forceful as a cannonball to the chest.

Jason Farago

Wolfgang Tillmans

1000 Fifth Avenue
January 26–July 5

Wolfgang Tillmans, Book for Architects, 2014, two-channel video installation, dimensions variable.

The 450 photographs that comprise Wolfgang Tillmans’s slideshow Book for Architects, 2014, first seen last year in Rem Koolhaas’s Venice architecture biennale, pull off a neat trick: They turn down objectivity and subjectivity at once. Shot with no specialized equipment, his photos dissent from the pristine midcentury architecture photography of Ezra Stoller or Julius Shulman, but Tillmans muffles his own voice through spontaneous cropping, unmediated lighting, and indifference to scale. Many of the images come from London—and few artists since Hogarth have made that city look as vile as Tillmans, with his shots of the rebarbative new city skyline, comically ugly Vauxhall condos, or the money launderers’ palaces known as One Hyde Park. Others evince cool, downbeat placelessness: HVAC systems in Russia or Korea, anonymous towers in Berlin or India, airport security lines, a doorknob, an elevator.

Early in his career, Tillmans would tape or pin his relaxed, vernacular photographs directly to gallery walls, and favorite images—of his friends Lutz Huelle and Alexandra Bircken in the forest, or a backpacker encountering a deer on the beach—would repeat in his installations for years. Those recurrences bugged a lot of people, but Tillmans was onto something: He turned his own output into a perpetually renegotiable archive, a memory bank wherein individual images matter less than their relations and their redeployment.

Book for Architects, with its unidentified locations and slideshow presentation, reaffirms that transmission and circulation matter as much or perhaps more to Tillmans than form or place. “Architecture today is little more than cardboard,” Koolhaas averred in Venice last year, and Tillmans, on the evidence, wouldn’t seem to disagree. Yet Tillmans is smart enough to know what you can do with cardboard—the perfect medium for the projection of past memories and dreams that never came true.

Jason Farago

Elizabeth Orr

167 Rivington Street, Lower Level East
April 4–May 3

Elizabeth Orr, Applied Marketing Topic: Loss Leader, 2015, video.

The sun sets on a passive-solar conference room, on ergonomic pleather rolling chairs around a glossy table with a conference phone. Everyone’s excited in this video (Elizabeth Orr’s Applied Marketing Topic: Loss Leader [all works 2015]) to talk about a pricing strategy for which the piece and exhibition, Orr’s first solo, take their names. (A loss lead, like a nascent art practice, is something offered at a profit loss in hope of future gain.) Swiveling toward the camera, a corporately assertive acolyte played by the artist Mariana Valencia vaguely declares: “My understanding of loss lead is just in terms of marketing.” Another, played by Emma Hedditch, is eager to learn: “I am going to be interviewing them later this week about strategic meditation in the workplace.”

Such moribund exuberance already suggests the inanimate, and the piece’s installation as a sculpture, closely facing one wall and supported by a metal pole descending from the ceiling, cements its continuity with the abstractions on display. The show has nothing on the walls, and at the center of the gallery are two Formica structures, Ghost Posture and Projected Return, the former’s shape resembling a traffic arrow and the latter’s something like an airport carry-on size-test box. On these stand unframed panes of minimally varied tinted glass, evoking, perhaps, the Instagram filter array, or just how much the history of Minimalism and the pages of a Uline catalogue really have in common. Corporations are disseminators of aesthetics, too—the architectonic mishmash seems to say—and this is what their dreams look like.

Abraham Adams

Jason Metcalf

540 West 29th Street
April 2–May 2

Jason Metcalf, (α 17h 45m 40.0409s / δ -29° 0′ 28.118″), 2015, airbrushed acrylic on canvas, 74“ x 9' 25”.

“Hie to Kolob,” Jason Metcalf’s cathedral-like exhibition, explores the quintessentially American qualities of regional evangelism and religious art, especially the pioneer’s folklore of Mormonism. Metcalf himself was raised in Utah, and his personal history is deeply steeped in the residual culture around the state’s predominant religion. Titled after a Mormon hymn that incants aspirations to reach Kolob, a star recognized by the LDS Church for its supposed proximity to God. “Hie to Kolob” is a winking homage to the massive Christus installation at Salt Lake’s Temple Square, colloquially known as Space Jesus.

The series positions large, airbrushed supernova-like canvases beside a graduating-light installation of incandescent lamps, and A paved work of pure gold, 2012–15, which, as its title suggests, is a foot-square tile made of aerospace-grade aluminum plated with a 99.999% pure layer of gold. The metal is the most thorough reflector of infrared radiation (footnote to NASA’s use of gold to plate the surfaces of astronauts’ helmet visors); a sharp pillar of light that radiates to the ceiling from the single square punctuates the room with an ecclesiastical luminosity.

Religious narratives and imagery are by nature often surreal and irrational; though Metcalf humorously acknowledges this absurdity via his co-opted devices of melodrama-via-airbrush and staged lighting, at heart these are not cynical works. The chromatic vibrance of the paintings increases as the lamps over them brighten, producing a fool’s-gold effect of religious divinity that climaxes with the reflected light of real gold: The experience may be dominated by special effect, but there is sincerity at its core.

Anne Prentnieks

Barbara Kasten

520 West 20th Street
April 2–May 2

Barbara Kasten, Transposition 3, 2014, fujiflex digital print, 60 x 48".

Barbara Kasten did not study with Josef Albers, but the Bauhaus ghosts her work. The photographs on view in her latest exhibition are constructions, geometric props positioned to throw colored light and shadows across the page. The plastic forms in these images delineate space but neither rise into the foreground nor fall into the background.

A spatial visual exchange registers on the photographic paper. Where De Stijl jockeys color and line in two dimensions, Kasten’s “Transpositions,” 2014, opt for a manipulation of volume and air. This respiration of form into space appears as an intentional blurring, a reverberation caught by the still of the camera frame. This relational pull conjures up the words of architecture historian Sigfried Gideon, who acutely described the movement of modern buildings as “cubes of air within, cube of air without.” The neue-architektur of modern times was a model that demarcated potential and provided a physical framework for the utopian ideal. These photographs offer an architecture that takes in the expired ideals of their historical forebears to expand them outward, splaying their shadows into a transitional space. Kasten’s images have the power to show a new generation some basic concepts of art that they can explore with their nifty digital tools.

Piper Marshall

Jamie Isenstein

537/535 W 22nd Street
April 2–May 2

Jamie Isenstein, Mechanical Bed, 2015, bed frame, metal, wood, cotton and polyester fabric, plastic, actor, intermission sign, 43 1/4 x 79 x 41 1/2".

Jamie Isenstein titled her latest exhibition “Para Drama,” after a phrase used to describe infighting among paranormal investigators. The term equally applies to the attendant theatricality of Isenstein’s sculptures that incorporate her own body (past examples include a live hand extending from a wall to form a candelabra, à la Cocteau; actual arms and legs fleshing out a wingback chair). For this show, Isenstein has expanded her idiosyncratic surrealism to include a sculpture in which the body remains invisible and instigates movement. In Mechanical Bed (all works 2015), a quilted coverlet inches up and down a mattress incrementally, manipulated by the artist’s hidden hands. The action is so eerily, robotically smooth that a viewer could easily not realize that there is a human laborer concealed within were it not for the materials list, which includes “actor.” (An INTERMISSION sign appears on the still sculpture when Isenstein is absent.)

Other sculptures are enlivened by more elemental forces: The breeze from a fan animates two white gloves that flutter aloft, bewitching an empty chair decked with tinkling wind chimes; a flame emerges from a solitary dinner plate in Theater and be Theatered, and another flickers from the lips of a porcelain mask resting on a crisp white pillow in Fire in the Mouth. Such materials recall the early installations of Jannis Kounellis, but while those dealt in references to ancient history and classical music, Isenstein appears to draw from more populist fare: Disney’s Fantasia, The Addams Family’s Thing. Many of these works feature visually ingenious gags we’ve seen from Isenstein before, but two seemingly comedic sculptures titled Onions—which feature mascot heads layered with multiple masked disguises, from clowns to circus animals—point to a missing inner being, an infinite regress of vanitas masquerading as camp: It’s melancholy all the way down.

Claire Lehmann

Lutz Bacher

508 West 26th Street, 8th Floor
April 3–May 9

Lutz Bacher, Mr. Sandman, 2014, inkjet print on adhesive vinyl, dimensions variable.

Lutz Bacher’s current solo exhibition, “For the People of New York City,” feels a lot like a Frank O’Hara poem: clever, buoyant, wistful, and utterly enthralled by all the garbage and loveliness of city existence. Her ability to resuscitate amateur videos, industrial throwaways, or bodega tchotchkes into numinously charged tableaux aligns her with urban visionaries such as Jess or Joseph Cornell, makers seemingly preordained to make even the stupidest of ready-made things exquisite.

Bacher’s Empire (all works 2014) has nothing of the dead-eyed, steely glamour of Andy’s: Hers swings, blurs, and bobs in space on multiple surfaces, translucent and opaque, woozy with luscious, lurid color from a pair of precariously balanced digital projectors. Like a disarrayed Stonehenge, larger-than-life-size windshields made of Plexiglas are scattered throughout the main area of the ground floor, kept upright in metal stands weighted down with sandbags. Images of this famous edifice reflect into and onto one another, all over and at once, creating an atmosphere that’s like a touristy phantasmagoria by way of a boozy Midtown cab ride.

How Will I Find You is perhaps the most funereal experience of the show. What seem to be hundreds of dirty plaster molds and broken figurines of bunnies, bowling pins, and a beheaded Pillsbury Doughboy are collected into a vast heap in the middle of a room, all gathered around two columns. Is it a Canal Street junkyard? A 9/11 elegy? Heavy-handed, homely, and immanently heartbreaking—just like this terrible city that is so dearly loved.

Alex Jovanovich

“Irreverent: A Celebration Of Censorship”

26 Wooster Street
February 13–May 3

Alma Lopez, Our Lady, 1999, digital print on canvas, 14 x 17 1/2".

Censorship and sexuality have long been strange bedfellows. “Irreverent: A Celebration of Censorship” details around a dozen international episodes of erasure and exclusion over the past half century, in which the frank depiction of queer people and sexualities rubbed up against church, state, and individual bigotry, resulting in physically and psychologically violent acts of censorship. Curated by Jennifer Tyburczy, "Irreverent” importantly includes many previously censored works and brings them renewed exposure. Additionally, through the creative incorporation of diverse ephemera, including installation photographs of censored artwork as well as documentary footage and signs from activist responses, the exhibition deftly contextualizes the sociocultural arenas in which censorship and its ramifications have played out.

Robert Mapplethorpe, David Wojnarowicz, and Andres Serrano loom large, the past and more recent censorship of their art acting as lightning rods, to which “standards of decency” (in the words of Jesse Helms) continue to be applied. On view are three Serrano works from “The History of Sex,” 1995, which were vandalized with axes and crowbars in Lund, Sweden, in 2010 by alleged neo-Nazis. The damaged prints themselves are on display, their shattered frames and ravaged images showing where Serrano’s lush, large-scale photos of bestiality and interracial gay fellatio were virulently attacked.

As the world’s only gay and lesbian art museum, this institution is uniquely positioned to “celebrate” censorship in a tongue-in-cheek manner that recuperates these works from a once-criticized position. For instance, an initial display of Alma López’s Our Lady, 1999, a flower-clad Virgin of Guadalupe interpretation supported by a bare-breasted female angel, incited protests from religious communities in Santa Fe for its queering of sacred iconography. López’s image now graces the museum’s entranceway and the cover of its quarterly scholarly publication, a fitting resurrection for this “irreverent apparition.”

Alex Fialho

Hito Steyerl

38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor
March 8–May 24

55 Walker Street
March 8–May 24

Hito Steyerl, Liquidity, Inc., 2014, HD video, sound, thirty minutes.

If barbarism is shoved deep into art, it sits snug as a gun in its holster. Let’s call Hito Steyerl’s work an epistemology of the holster. This survey of her videos since 2004 betrays a preoccupation with casings, coverings, capsules: that is, the thin membrane of criticality stretched taut over so much art discourse. Steyerl’s filmed lectures tickle the art world’s left-ish pieties, as we see her—speaking with pedagogical placidity as she gets all political—deliver the eagerly anticipated theoretical assault. And the artist lecture is itself a kind of casing or effluvium, a foam that forms on top, as the art world’s stony concerns—selling, buying, selling again—churn beneath.

Is a Museum a Battlefield?, 2013, a two-channel video installation, presents a theory that dances along by Steyerl’s bracing, associative logic: It knots together the storming of the Hermitage by Russian revolutionaries; the commingling of arms manufacturers and the culture industry; and the technological imaging systems that make possible both the steel flexion of a Frank Gehry structure and of a fighter helicopter. The museum doesn’t simply “reflect” violence but is itself a site of contestation, destruction, and—we hope—retaliation (which is why the seating in the gallery is made of piled sandbags, perfect for ducking enemy fire). The theme is more poignant in the film Guards, 2012, for which Steyerl interviewed museum guards that have served in the armed forces at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her gesture scuffs the polished halls of culture with the mark of state violence.

It’s difficult these days to imagine any work that can’t simply be looped back into capitalism’s cynical embrace like a prodigal son. Not so here: With her pixelated images, her ironic truth-telling, and the coy fluttering of her dialectics, Steyerl dares to see agency in complicity, cunning in crime.

Tobi Haslett

Trenton Doyle Hancock

144 West 125th Street
March 26–June 28

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Self-Portrait with Tongue, 2010, acrylic and mixed media on paper, 11 × 8 1/4".

Trenton Doyle Hancock works in a baroque grotesque, from portraits whose emetic intricacy recalls George Grosz to centerless, Boschian tableaux. This retrospective starts with drawings from the artist’s childhood and maps his career’s uncanny continuity up to the present season. Already in the heavy graphite wobble of a ten-year-old, Hancock had chosen Torpedoboy as his avatar, a caped and hero-diapered character who would appear throughout the decades and here adorns a site-specific installation of his 2002 series “Studio Floor.”

This drawing series is the exhibition’s garish centerpiece, with captions in acrylics below each frame narrating the superhero’s theft of tofu from the bony, bone-white, repulsively awkward beings known as the Vegans. This begins to read as an episode of an ongoing racial conflict (another work on display, Vegans Send Newly Acquired Moundmeat to the Tofu Converter, 2004, reveals the creatures’ sacred pabulum to be made out of their darker rivals), but the story devolves with a gorgeously absurd narrative absentmindedness. Torpedoboy escapes, gets distracted by a prostitute, performs some anxious scat play in a hotel room, then falls asleep alone beside a nasty, worm-segmented dildo.

The series’ use of walls and frames in the manner of a cartoon panel sequence marks Hancock’s expansion from the page to other forms, among which are his pizza-box paintings, animations, and the frightening cutout series “Step and Screw,” 2014. Describing the development of Torpedoboy alongside Philip Guston’s “Klansmen” paintings and racist killings in the South, the subject matter draws the viewer in, then it disorients with too much information. It is the artist’s favorite strategy.

Abraham Adams

Laurie Simmons

1109 Fifth Avenue
March 13–August 9

Laurie Simmons, How We See/Ajak (Violet), 2015, pigment print, 70 x 48".

There is the problem of eyelashes. The six unnerving photographs that Laurie Simmons displays here feature interchangeable models against perky colored backgrounds: vapid, prosaic images from a fashion world where Vogue is no longer distinct from twelve-year-olds’ makeup lessons on YouTube. But the eyelashes: Overpainted on the upper lid, much too thick on the lower one. It takes a few seconds to notice—compliments to the dexterity of this maker’s hand—that the models’ eyes are actually clamped shut, and irises and pupils have been painted over their lids. What gives the game away are the lashes—the lower lashes are in fact upper lashes: monstrous, spidery antennae, markers of an enduring but diseased humanity on bodies that makeup and Photoshop have otherwise scrubbed of biology.

In The Land of Green Plums, 1994, the Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller writes of the body as a pell-mell cluster of organs, any one of which could betray the others. “If you control your face, it slips into your voice,” she writes. “If you manage to keep a grip on your face and your voice, as if they were dead wood, it will slip out through your fingers.” Like Müller, Simmons employs the techniques of Surrealism not as a dated language for internal fantasy, but to express the very real effects of external pressures on the body, the psyche, that thing we used to call the soul. There’s no point going inward, these images say; even your imagination has been spoiled, and the dream you dream with your eyes closed tight belongs, if we’re honest, to the international conglomerate that sold you the mascara. Put on a brave face for the camera, but the body cannot withstand the onslaught; keep the pain behind your eyelids, and it will slip out through your lashes.

Jason Farago

Charline von Heyl

35 East 67th Street
April 7–May 2

Charline von Heyl, Untitled (3/95, I), 1995, oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas, 70 4/5 x 78 3/4".

Now that the Met’s presentation of Leonard Lauder’s Cubism collection has come down, we can safely say that the most vital collision of forms currently on view in New York takes place in Untitled (3/95, I), 1995, a firecracker from this German artist’s early days. Charline von Heyl paints a seafoam easy chair from the side, its feet resting at the bottom of the composition, its right face scored with dark-blue hatches and white crosshatches, the latter as smothering as a fisherman’s net. Overtaking the top half of the canvas is a painter’s palette, the thumbhole cloned twice over. Unlike the chair, the palette is depicted from above, or actually, it’s not really depicted at all; it’s merely signified by a calligraphic white flourish. Panes of color respect the palette’s border on the right, but on the left the background bleeds over onto the chair. It’s a disjunctive, dynamic crypto-Braque whose “incorrect” elements surpass nonfigurative harmony.

Von Heyl painted the seven works in this show while working for Jörg Immendorf, her professor at art school; there are echoes in the chair of the cool palette of his Grand Guignol “Café Deutschland” series. She had no time for expressionist bluster, though, and while her canvases evince a dark humor, she has never pulled the longstanding German trick of beating up on painting in order to save it. In both of this winter’s major painting shows—MoMA’s much-contested “The Forever Now” and Gavin Brown’s better received “Call and Response”—von Heyl stood out for her refusal of both zombie formalism and Kippenberger-lite mess making, as if she is still working through the modernist explosion with which the rest of us have decided not to come to terms. Do not recoil, von Heyl insists. Paint because it’s hard; paint because you’re an adult.

Jason Farago

On Kawara

1071 Fifth Avenue
February 6–May 3

On Kawara, Jan. 4, 1966, acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10". From the series “Today,” 1966–2013.

A fact lost on most media: “On Kawara—Silence,” the title of the most comprehensive overview to date of the late Conceptualist’s work, is accompanied by a tiny spiral icon, a miniature Guggenheim ramp. Whether didactic, deadpan, or an allusion to the impressive totality of his work (probably all three), the symbol is an idiosyncratic detail the artist desired. Its closest typographic kin, “@,” doesn’t really suffice, even though it aptly lights up the poetically terse, direct address of much of Kawara’s best work, its pre–social media forthrightness. See the postcards to his friends (the “I Got Up” series, 1968–79), which trace his itinerancy and are elegantly pinned between large panes of glass in freestanding displays in this show, and, similarly, the telegrams (from “I Am Still Alive,” 1969–2000), a testament to his “at-ness.” Above all, his longest-running work, the Date Paintings, from the “Today” series, 1966–2013, carry forward this focus on self-reliance, on having a daily practice, and on being directed, if only one way—in a monologue.

Ascending the final, top ramp, one encounters a show within the show: fifty-one of the Date Paintings, marking each year of Kawara’s production, beginning with two canvases from January 12, 2013. Without any fanfare, the exhibition simply ends. January 30, 1966. Drifting back down to the exit, one finds the commencing work from this series, painted on January 4, 1966, in the first gallery. It’s like the eternal return. Kawara’s spiral feels complete.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler

“Watching You, Watching Me”

224 West 57th Street
November 4–May 8

Simon Menner, Untitled, 2011, pigment print, dimensions variable. From the series “Images from the Secret Stasi Archives,” 2011.

The only way to understand the full extent of the revelations of Edward Snowden—the disregard for law, the imbrication of governmental and corporate power, the simultaneously awesome and pointless data harvesting—is to put your own grievances to one side and look from the position of the surveillant. For more than two years, the German artist Simon Menner combed through the archives of the Ministry for State Security and unearthed disturbing, at times bitterly comic photographs of Stasi agents trying on disguises (mustaches, hairpieces, fur coats with flared collars) and practicing hand signals: an outstretched palm or a fist pointing downwards, as structured as an Yvonne Rainer performance. A hundred Polaroids document not just illegally imported coffeemakers and West German marks stuffed into cigarette cases, but also unmade beds and sloppy desks: The agents put everything back after their raids, leaving the surveilled in the dark. The oppressors are watching you. But what do they see, and what do they want to see?

The nine other artists in this show take a more contemporary view of surveillance and of the photographic apparatus’s complicity in repression and privacy violation. For The New Town, 2013, Andrew Hammerand took footage from a CCTV camera set up in a planned American suburb, and the grainy images of teenagers and families have the look of a crime scene. Drone vision, whether in the black-and-white shots of Tomas van Houtryve or the Google Earth appropriations of Mishka Henner, turn life into data. Neither legislation nor public outcry seems to be enough to stop such gazes, and unless you can shrink to a size of a pixel, as Hito Steyerl has recently suggested, you aren’t going to escape. One other way out might be the one proposed by Hassan Elahi. Every week since 2002, he has sent the FBI hundreds of photos of his daily life, flooding the system and rendering it even more worthless.

Jason Farago